The best law in the church’s canon is number 663 which states that religious are “to observe faithfully an annual period of sacred retreat.” What a blessing that it is a required to take time out to rest the mind, body, and spirit. I just got back from my retreat and it was an amazing experience. Once again, I experienced God in the beauty of the retreat grounds, in the daily liturgy and scripture readings, and in the reflections suggested by my director. Add to that great food and a comfortable bed and it was just what I needed to refuel for my ministry.
It got me thinking, however, about the idea of rest and relaxation and how so many people do not have that luxury. Even with the job market as robust as it is, low wage earners – around one-third of the work force- earn less than $12 an hour and would have to work full time over 50 weeks per year to reach the poverty line for a family of three. The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a ‘working poor’ person as someone below the poverty line who spent at least half the year either working or looking for work. There are around 7.6 million working poor primarily adults over 35. If they cannot get full time work or if their income is not enough to make ends meet, they must work several jobs. The Labor Department also reported that around 7.6 million workers held multiple jobs just to make ends meet.
Many of these working poor are single parents, mostly women, who also have children or elderly parents to care for. Sadly, caregiving is not often thought of as work and not factored into the work equation. Even if the children are in school, there is not enough time for mothers to work full time and care for their children. If they are earning only the national minimum wage which is $7.25, it is impossible to make enough income to support their families. The stress of living in this environment must be tremendous. And there is likely not much opportunity for rest or relaxation.
Time off for relaxation and vacation like retreats is important to our wellbeing. This has been known for ages. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer.” Lack of relaxation can cause anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, or chest pain. The ability to have some time for relaxation improves health and mood.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to have time each year to do a retreat. I’m even more grateful that I have time each week for the Sabbath and do not have the stress of supporting myself and my family. Do I really make the most of these opportunities?
For an interesting perspective on this issue, check out Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/magazine/americans-jobs-poverty-homeless.html